For our final stop in a long exploration of eastern Canada & New England, we pulled up to a grand house in a leafy neighborhood. Our home exchangers left a beautiful gift basket for us (thanks Korina & Stéphane!) and our mellow introductory day of lounging was capped off with local berries on ice cream in the backyard.
The next day we explored a wooden maze of one-way doors. Sarah really got to practice her French since they woman running it didn't speak English and we got to practice our deduction skills since there was no map.
While one might say that eventually I cheated, that isn't exactly true. I tried to release a one-way latch from the wrong side to get to where Sarah was, but I couldn't fit my hand in between the slats. So I got The Little Lady to do the dirty work. Once that small hurdle was passed we solved it legitimately moving forward, though we didn't actually catch up with Sarah, who eventually, and grudgingly, agreed to allow me to open the door for her so the boys could quench their thirst since I was the only one with the water.
Did I mention that Canada (& Boston) was hot? Except for some of our time in the Maritimes, the trip was a direct confirmation of climate change. So we took the next day at the local water park.
That said, it was actually the coldest day we were there, so we were thankful that the water in the wave pool and on all the slides was heated(!).
That night we cleaned our borrowed house and got ready to welcome our guests of honor: my folks!
We finally went into Quebec City proper and explored the walled city.
"We need to cross this park...wait, what are you doing?"
And yes, like every other tourist, I took too many pictures of Le Château Frontenac hotel.
Day one in the city gained us our bearings, while day two offered more earthly delights. Our food tour of the old town was spectacular. Highlights included fancy poutine, maple taffy on snow, and Québécois mac and cheese with maple bacon. They kind of have a thing for maple syrup.
The Museum of Civilization rounded out the day. The optical illusion section was quite captivating.
It was quite amazing to wander a city which celebrated its 400-year anniversary ten years ago (granted, Panama City will be celebrating 500 years next year). The buildings were neat, but when we learned about how life was like back then we were certainly glad that we live in 2018.
Do you need a better look at the sad little gal? I think you do.
Next, a geography lesson. The Great Lakes drain into the St. Lawrence river, which flows past Montreal and Quebec City, then widens tremendously until it blends into the Atlantic. On maps it's still labeled as the St. Lawrence river well into what I would call the ocean, but I'm neither a professional geographer nor am I Canadian, so it seems I'm unqualified to make that call.
But I digress. the "river" is saltwater as it passes the town of Tadoussac, where an actual river meets it and gives is shot of cold freshwater. Why do you care about all of this? Because this mix makes krill happy, which then makes whales happy, which then makes Schnacks happy when they see them. See?
That there's a Minke whale, and we saw a bunch of them! We also saw at least one fin whale (the second biggest whales on the planet!), as well as a some harbor seals and the showy humpback whales. How are they showy, you may be wondering? Because they always show off their tail right before they dive. Like this:
The boat ride was fun as well.
On the way home we stopped by a local jocal honey farm and the biggest pilgrimage site north of Mexico.
And then it was time to say goodbye. To Grammy and Gramps. To our last beautiful home exchange. To our, gulp, summer vacation. We certainly squeezed quite a bit out of it, I think. We did good.
I have to admit I was a bit taken aback by the Canadian border agent speaking to me in French only twenty feet from Vermont. She switched quickly to French-accented English, but it was a reminder to adjust my mindset and remember how to say “Parlay voo Ahnglase?”
Hilly New Hampshire and Vermont became even hillier Quebec, a topographical feature I hadn’t realized. We set our sights for a “wilderness resort” for some strange cycling-in-the-air activity I’d seen online, but when we arrived it had been cancelled because of the weather. So we took a hike among the shaggy cows mooing in French.
When we returned the thunderclouds had been driven away by our cheerfulness and we were strapped into the velovolant.
Each of us got our own peddling contraption which was suspended from cables, themselves bolted to trees. The course weaved in between Canadian conifers and eventually over steep hillsides. It was a surprisingly calm way to spend an afternoon.
It was nice to soak up some calm before entering bustling Montreal. We had set up yet another home exchange in yet another awesome house (thanks Frédérique and François!) in an interesting neighborhood abutting the stretch of the St. Lawrence called the Prairie river. Our place was a fifteen-minute walk to the subway, which we got to know quite well. Our neighborhood, like all the neighborhoods we experienced in the city, was astoundingly diverse. I have to say I felt a bit more at ease among the Haitian families, Portuguese fine restaurants, and a friendly Uber driver from Burundi than during the more rural parts of our trip. Banh mi for lunch, walking past a Yemani restaurant, and a huge, old Coptic church were reminders that this place really is a melting pot. I mean a mosaic (my apologies, Canadians).
Our time in Montreal was nice and mellow. We explored the old town (the kiddos each zip lined over the old port) and took a look at Sarah’s grandfather's alma mater (McGill), before hiking up the namesake hill.
Montreal's street art was quite everywhere.
On our way into town I thought the young lady draped in a French flag on the subway was for Bastille Day celebrations, but when the songs started flowing on the subway ride home I realized that we'd just been informed of who won the World Cup.
The hike up Mont Royal yielded quite the panorama.
Montreal's long-standing Jewish population is famous for its "smoked meat" (Schwartz's was awesome) and its bagels. Sorry New York, we tried both famous practitioners and found them all to be amazing. We brought two dozen home to Panama...
We also took a break from taking a break from learning and checked out the local science museum. Some of us also dressed up like trolls. It had a huge exhibit on the making of computer animated movies which included a hands-on-electrons activity.
Last but not least was the Jean Talon farmer’s market, where we stocked up on too many fresh berries, along with snooty cheese, fresh baked breads, and dried sausage. Dinner was a veritable cornucopia!
On our last evening we met the family of our final Quebec City home exchange in Montreal and they handed over the keys to their minivan before flying to our place in Panama. The next day we sped up the interstate (interprovince?) towards our last home exchange and a rendezvous with my folks. Quebec City here we come!
Enough of this country stuff. It's time for a big city.
We escaped Canada on the 30th of June, just before Canada Day (whew!). We dilly dallied in Maine for a few days, and made it to Boston on the 3rd of July. Too late to celebrate Independence day according to one founding father, but just in time to check out the Boston Pops 4th of July preview along the Charles river!
While it was delayed because of a thunderstorm warning and then had some starts and stops, the whole thing was quite amazing. The Boston Pops and the Indigo Girls were great, and we were quite intrigued by Rhiannon Giddens. Overall a great way for Boston to welcome us.
On actual Independence Day we just lounged around our awesome home exchange place in Cambridge. (Thanks Hilary and Dave!) Sometimes a mellow day is just what the doctor ordered. We needed all the rest we could get before tackling the Freedom Trail.
It was quite warm on this particular New England day and the offspring were happy to discover the fountains in the park that used to be the Interstate.
Pizza in the North End was crowded, loud, and delicious.
While Sarah went off to Princeton for a teacher conference, the rest of us stayed and played in Cambridge. First, Harvard University's Collection of Historical Scientific Instruments to see the first programmable computer in the US, amongst other things...
Then the MIT museum!
MIT's collection of slide rules was especially exciting.
The day ended with pizza and candlepin bowling.
On the next day-without-Sarah we headed across state lines to explore a bit of Providence, Rhode Island. We took a quick peek at Brown U., then quenched our hunger for Uyghur cuisine at Jahunger, enjoyed a Pawtucket Red Sox game, and washed it all down with sweet crepes in a shmancy setting at a snuggery called the Duck and Bunny.
Sarah rejoined the family and we explored the Mapparium with my college friend Houdin who we hadn't seen in around 18 years!
And then, finally, the event we had been waiting for. We walked (walked!) over to Fenway Park for a Red Sox game!
The Eldest was wearing his new Pawtucket Hot Weiners souvenir hat from the game the day before.
We were in the cheap seats, but since Fenway is so small, they were still pretty darn good seats, right next to the Big Green Monster.
We then wandered around a bit and an usher invited us to to sit in some fancier, newly empty seats.
I have to say that the vibe of the place was amazing, and even though I didn't grow up a Red Sox fan, I certainly was that night. It was probably the most fun any of us have ever had at a baseball game.
After a great night's sleep we then headed north for the next leg of our adventure. We followed just a wee bit of the New Hampshire Ice Cream Trail and stopped in Littleton, across from the:
to have a scoop or three and support the local maple syrup industry.
Canada, round deux, here we come!
If you haven't heard, we're exploring Eastern Canada for the summer. But when we looked at the most direct route to get from the Maritimes to Quebec, we noticed that Maine butts itself in the way, so we decided we'd check out Acadia National Park while we were in the neighborhood.
The long drive from St. John, New Brunswick to Mt. Desert Island, interrupted only by a quick and uneventful stop at the border, was topped off by a fabulous BBQ dinner.
I SAID WHO'S EXCITED?!?!?!
aFTER CALMING DOWN A BIT. I mean, after turning off caps lock, calming down a bit, and then catching a good night's sleep in a motel straight from 1967, we gave the kiddos a choice of various excursions, and they chose to kayak down a mellow creek walking distance from our place.
The whole experience was quite relaxing and gorgeous, except for the self-induced capsize incident (why yes, it was The Eldest! How did you know?). Luckily, the creek was super slow moving and only three feet deep. A little bit unluckily, the mud was super sticky and almost ate a shoe. But the viscous foe was swiftly defeated and we were soon on our way again. Another National Park to cross off the list awaited!
Our clamber around Jordan Pond reminded us of Lake Tahoe, though we were nearly at sea level.
The kiddos and I braved the hike up to Bubble Rock while Sarah hung out with the tadpoles.
We were rewarded afterwards with the famous popovers at the ol' tea house, along with some awesome scallops.
We ended the day with some late night mini-golf, after which the general consensus was that it had been just about the best day everyone could remember.
Our breakfast cafe the next morning had comics on the tables!
Our last evening in Maine was an exploration of the menu of a classic lobster pound. Lobster bisque, crab rolls, and mussels accompanied the main attraction.
Acadia National Park and Bar Harbor were as awesome as I had remembered. I was so glad to be able to experience them with my own family.
So far this summer the twins (and the rest of us) have now run around quite a bit of New Brunswick, as well as many other provinces and states.
We did a bit of legwork and set up a series of four (four!) home exchanges in Eastern Canada and Massachusetts. The first of these was outside of the small town of Sussex, New Brunswick. Because residing in the small town of Sussex, New Brunswick would have been a bit too much of both hustle and bustle.
The to-do list including lounging around, successfully avoiding tick bites whilst exploring the neighborhood, and eating local ice cream. We've eaten quite a bit of ice cream.
In the local metropolis of St. John we checked out the City Market and discovered that the local seaweed makes Marmite seem both subtle and tasty. Luckily the lobster roll and scallops were excellent.
Sarah's folks soon joined us (with a huge minivan for us all) and we set out to check another two provinces off the list.
We put on plenty of kilometers (that's "not-quite-a-mile" in Canadian) on the minivan getting to Prince Edward Island, but the reward of getting a picture in the fictional town of Avonlea was well worth it.
After a night in Charlottetown we hopped the ferry over to Nova Scotia and drove up to Sydney, Cape Breton Island, where Sarah's grandpa grew up. The weather welcomed us by storming and turning frigid, just like Old Scotia.
After awakening unnecessarily early the next morning I decided to go running. I made it twenty feet into the sideways rain before turning back and checking my phone. Google told me it "feels like 28 degrees Fahrenheit." The family thought it felt like a lazy morning in the hotel. Finally the weather let up a bit and allowed us to glipse the largest violin in the world.
We had lunch with Emma, a friend/coworker from Panama who happens to live in town, and she recommended that we check out a local beach. The waitress then told Emma alternate directions to get there because, and I quote, "the bridge is out." Once we got to the beach we better understood why Carol's dad immigrated to California.
Granted, the twins had no problem building their sand castle to withstand the bitter, bitter wind.
From the comfort of the car's interior, Pat pointed out a family of foxes playing on the rocks across the river. Later we heard that it had snowed a bit further north on the island. Did I mention this was late June?
That night was the highlight of the trip: Carol meeting up with two of her cousins, and their extended families, to eat and oogle at old pictures. They hadn't seen each other since they were young teenagers.
We then added the more "tropical" Halifax as a last-minute addition to our tour of the Maritimes so we could see Tiffany and Kurtis, two friends of ours from our days in Ho Chi Minh City, and meet their two kiddos. As well as tackle more handmade ice cream and more seafood.
The proud of ourselves pics:
Then the understanding sets in of what it takes to actually get any meat:
On the way back to Sussex we hit Fort Beauséjour and learned about the Acadians, and at lunch we learned that random Canadian families in the background of family pictures know how to have a good time.
Our last day in the Maritimes was hitting the local biggies: Fundy National Park and Hopewell Rocks, with a stop at a rock-strewn beach in between.
I was setting up a beautiful picture of the cliffs and the water when The Eldest read my mind. He's faster than he looks.
A huge swath of land litter with perfect-sized building material? How could they not build something?
As I'm sure you're well aware, the Bay of Fundy boasts the highest tides in the world, and at Hopewell Rocks it can be as high as 52 feet from low to high tide. We stopped by just before low tide so we could "walk on the bottom of the ocean" among the rocks.
And then it was time to bid the Gannons and the Maritimes adieu. Thank you for meeting us in exotic corners of the world!